Anyone can develop hearing loss, but according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCC), it's particularly common among older adults. About one in three adults aged 65 to 74 has hearing loss along with one in two adults over the age of 75, according to the NIDCC.
And hearing loss isn't just annoying (though it certainly can be). Being unable to hear can be dangerous — particularly if you're unable to hear things like directions from your doctor or traffic noise from the road.
Here are five signs of hearing loss — if they sound familiar (or if you suspect that you have a hearing problem), make an appointment with your doctor to have your hearing checked. You might be a candidate for hearing aids, assistive listening devices, or other treatments, many of which could be covered by a Medicare plan.
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You have trouble hearing consonants
Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, can interfere with our ability to hear high-frequency sounds — like the "s-sounds," "sh-sounds," "th-sounds," and "f-sounds," says doctor of audiology William Dillon, an audiologist at Duke Clinic in Durham, North Carolina. (Consonants tend to have a higher-pitch than vowels, which sound comparatively deeper.)
That said, Dillon points out that age-related hearing loss can cause an inability to hear sounds of any pitch — including those that have a middling-frequency and high-frequency pitch, too.
You misunderstand words
Mistaking words or mishearing people you're speaking with is another common sign of hearing loss, says Dillon. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as getting a hearing aid, which amplifies the sound signal and makes it appear louder. Other times, he says, the answer is more complicated.
You hear a "ringing" in your ears
Tinnitus is often described as a "ringing," but it can also sound like "buzzing" or "whistling."
Dillon says that experts aren't 100% certain what causes the sensation, but one theory is that it is caused by "auditory deprivation." When people experience hearing loss, their brains, which are used to hearing sounds, compensate for the silence by generating their own type of noise, which we perceive as tinnitus.
It's hard to hear over the background noise
Many of Dillon's patients can hear him well when they're sitting in a quiet room. But when background noise is present — or if they're listening from a distance — people have more difficulty hearing him, he says.
You're starting to avoid social situations
It's hard to participate in conversations that you can't hear. As a result, you might find yourself skipping parties or other gatherings. "When people don't treat their hearing loss, they're more likely to avoid social situations," says Dillon.
If you suspect that you have hearing loss, talk to your doctor or consider scheduling an exam with an otolaryngologist.
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